While strokes and seizures share similar symptoms and are both medical conditions that can cause harm, they are distinct from one another, have different effects, and require different treatments. This article will help explain the difference between the two.
A stroke, sometimes called a cerebrovascular accident (CVA) or brain attack, is a medical problem that occurs when blood does not flow to the brain properly. This can either be because of poor blood flow to the brain, or hemorrhaging (bleeding) in the brain. A stroke caused by poor blood flow is known as an ischemic stroke. The picture above shows a CT scan of a brain affected by an ischemic stroke. The arrow points to the area in the brain where blood is not flowing. The area affected is darker than the rest of the brain.
A stroke caused by bleeding is known as a hemorrhagic stroke. Both types lead to brain cells dying, which in turn leads to brain damage. Symptoms of stroke include numbness in one side of the face or body, trouble speaking, dizziness, and a severe headache with rapid onset.
A seizure is a medical problem which is the result of excessive activity in brain circuits. The picture below is the result of monitoring electrical brain activity in an EEG during a seizure. What is clear is the rapid increase of activity over a short period of time. The chart reads from left to right:
There are two types of seizures: generalized and partial. Generalized seizures occur in the entire brain, and partial seizures occur in a small part of the brain. Seizures can often occur as a result of an underlying condition known as epilepsy, but they also occur in people without epilepsy. There are multiple types of seizures, but the most common and well-known type of seizure is the generalized tonic-clonic seizure, also known as the “Grand-Mal” seizure. Symptoms of this seizure include unconsciousness, muscle convulsions, and muscle rigidity. One well-known trigger of a seizure is rapidly flashing lights, which can cause excessive brain activity.
|Caused by lack of blood flow to the brain, or by hemorrhaging in the brain.||Caused by excessive activity in brain circuits.|
|No underlying condition associated with having a stroke, though high blood pressure is a factor.||Epilepsy is an underlying condition often associated with having a seizure, though a seizure is not always caused by epilepsy.|
|Symptoms can be permanent.||Symptoms typically temporary.|
|Often occurs in the elderly.||Can occur at any age.|
The main differences are:
- The cause of the condition itself
- The permanence of the symptoms
- The age group affected by each condition
While strokes are caused by the lack of blood flow to the brain, or by hemorrhaging in the brain, seizures are caused by excessive activity in brain circuits. Additionally, seizures are known to have underlying conditions causing them, such as epilepsy. Strokes, on the other hand, do not have any corresponding conditions. High blood pressure is known to cause a stroke, and is the highest risk factor for a stroke, but high blood pressure will not always lead to a stroke.
Seizures generally do not last for a long time. Once the seizure has run its course, any unconsciousness, rigidity, convulsions, etc. will dissipate and will not affect the person who suffered the seizure. Another seizure will, of course, have the same symptoms, but the symptoms of one seizure do not last until another seizure. A stroke, on the other hand, can have permanent effects. The numbness of the face or body, difficulty speaking, loss of muscle function etc. can be permanent.
Stroke is associated more with elderly groups. While it is not unheard of for a younger person to have a stroke, they are far more common in the elderly, and quite rare for a younger person. Seizures, however, can occur at any age, and are not typically associated with an age group.
The video below helps to explain some of the differences between a stroke and a seizure. Additionally, it contains some information on how seizures may imitate strokes, as well as the different types of strokes and seizures: